The weather may have finally perked up but there’s an autumnal feel to this weekend’s releases. When schools reopen, Hollywood usually drops the kids’ films and begins pitching for the winter awards season. And Celine Song’s tear-jerker is about as far away from this summer’s blockbusters as you could imagine.
There are no A-listers, atomic bombs or motorcycle jumps. This masterclass in restraint is powered by sparse dialogue, longing looks and pregnant pauses.
The writer-director uses three separate acts, which take place over 12-year intervals, to explore the ill-fated relationship between two childhood best friends.
In the earliest segment, set in South Korean capital Seoul, 12-year-old wannabe writer Na Young (Moon Seung-ah) develops a crush on classmate Hae Sung (Leem Seung-min).
“I will probably marry him,” the girl confides to her mum.
But shortly after the charming first date, she emigrates to Canada with her parents and the kids lose touch.
In 2011, Na Young (Greta Lee) is an up-and-coming playwright who is living in New York and has adopted the Western name Nora Moon. One day, she does that late 2000s thing of tracking down old classmates on Facebook.
After an awkward reunion with Hae (Teo Yoo) on Skype, an intense long-distance relationship develops across time zones, with Nora’s regular night-time calls catching Hae before he heads to his engineering college.
Though it’s addictive, sensible Nora suspects it’s unhealthy and tells a crestfallen Hae that she needs to take a break.
It will be another 12 years until they speak again. Nora is married to fellow writer Arthur (John Magaro) when Hae decides to visit her in New York.
As they talk about Inyeon, the Korean notion of fate, Moon’s delicate writing and Lee and Yoo’s nuanced performances slowly build towards a quietly devastating finale.
Past Lives could battle Oppenheimer at the Oscars. It’s just as explosive.
Past Lives, Cert 12A, In cinemas now